This May Cleft Friends is celebrating 10 Years! Whoop! Whoop! If you or your loved one is cleft affected feel free to email your photo and story to us at We want to share encouraging stories and create awareness about cleft lip and palate in South Africa. You are not alone!

“It’s a girl! Those words changed my parent’s lives forever, after having three boys they were eagerly awaiting the arrival of their baby girl. In the days before scans it was a guessing game every time. My father loved to tell the story of how he chose my name. As a young man he loved movies and while watching a movie he fell in love with the name of one of the female characters “Madge”. He knew immediately that would be his daughter’s name.” says Madge. The name Madge means “Pearl. Child of Light” a meaning that is true for this special lady who is a beacon of light in her community.

“I was born with a unilateral cleft lip and palate with a deformity of the nose. I had a gaping hole where my nose and upper lip was supposed to be. So was it love at first sight for my dad and me? According to my mom, when he saw me for the first time my dad kissed me full on the mouth! The first thing my dad did was kiss that hole, sealing the deal. It was love at first sight.

My mom was told that feeding me would be a challenge. Apparently I was only comfortable with a spoon, so for the first three months of my life my mom fed me with a spoon and syringes. According to my mom I was the biggest, healthiest and prettiest baby she had. I had my first operation to repair my lip when I was three months old. After that I was able to drink from a normal bottle. By the time I was a year old my parents took me back to the doctor to test my speech, I had started walking from the age of 9 months and was a chatty toddler. To my parents surprise the doctor said I did not need speech therapy as I was doing so well. I had my next operation to repair my nose when I was 6 years old. I was a happy and content little girl. I had no idea what the doctors were doing when they operated on me or even why it was being done. I didn’t fully comprehend that I had been born with a cleft lip and palate I just knew I needed to have an operation. My parents had raised me with the same values and care that they raised my brothers. I didn’t see myself as “different”.

It wasn’t until when I was 9 years old and one of my teachers called me to the front of the class and said “Madge is different”. She probably intended well but my world crashed as I did not know how I was different. I went home that day and had a long look at myself in the mirror and at my cleft scar on my lip and the shape of my nose. This moment in my life was emotionally traumatic and led to a low self-esteem as a young woman.

Unlike other girls my age I did not spend much time in front of a mirror faffing about trying out make-up or even dreaming about boyfriends. I avoided the mirror, I could not stand looking at my face. I spent my days dreaming about plastic surgery and I convinced myself that that’s what would solve all my problems. At the age of 17 I underwent my third corrective surgery to my nose. I remember waking up in hospital in such pain and discomfort. I had placed an unrealistic expectation on my surgery and couldn’t wait for my “new life” post-surgery with a perfectly straight nose and no scars to begin. To my shock and utter disappointment I still looked exactly the same!

I prayed the Serenity Prayer “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…” This was my first step to accepting the fact that I was born with a cleft lip and palate. I chose to start accepting my cleft and to start living life. I told the doctor I did not want any more surgeries, this is a decision I don’t regret. I have made a choice to willingly embrace who I am in every way and that includes the fact that I was born with a cleft lip and palate.”

Despite life’s setbacks, leaning on her faith in God and discovering that part of God’s purpose for her life is to share her story. She now readily speaks as schools and organisations encouraging not just those born with a cleft but all young people to embrace their differences. Madge Blignaut is a co-founder of Cleft Friends a project of the Smile Foundation. She oversees the adults and teens support nationally and welcomes every opportunity to share her story as a pillar of hope to all South African’s affected by cleft lip and palate. Cleft Friends has a Whatsapp group that reaches out to adults and teens who were born with cleft lip and palate. If you were born with a cleft lip and palate and would like to connect with others who have lived a similar experience to you feel free to Whatsapp Madge on 063 189 0869.

#cleftfriends #smilefoundationsa #closingthegap #youarenotalone #cleftlip #cleftpalate #cleftstrong #cleftmomsSA #cleftcourage

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